Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
1. Christian workers patiently and conscientiously proceeding with their mission (vers. 1, 2).
2. Christian advocates employing the weapon which was prepared for their use (ver. 3).
3. Christian laborers reaping a blessed spiritual harvest (ver. 4).
4. Faithful followers of the Lord partaking of his sufferings (vers. 5-9). But we rather find here -
I. A GREAT PROPHECY FULFILLLED. "Alleging that Christ must needs have suffered," etc. (ver. 3); i.e. must needs have so done in order that the Scriptures (ver. 2) might be fulfilled (see Luke 24:26, 46). The death of the Messiah was the realization of
(1) the predictions contained in the Jewish sacrifices (the sin offerings and trespass offerings, and notably the offering of the goat on the great Day of Atonement; the Passover lamb, etc.); and of
(2) such predictions in word as those contained in the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. The Law must have remained fatally incomplete and prophecy unfulfilled if the Christ had not suffered as Jesus of Nazareth did suffer, if he had not died the death which he underwent. In the crucified Nazarene the greatest of all prophecies had been fulfilled.
II. AN UNCONSCIOUS PROPHECY TO BE FULFILLED. The language of the complainants (ver. 6) was unintentionally prophetic. They indeed stated, hyperbolically, as something already accomplished, that which the ambassadors of Christ are engaged in doing. But they indicated, truly and graphically, what the gospel of his grace is doing - it is turning the world upside down. We may put the facts thus to our minds:
1. When Christ came evil was everywhere uppermost. The reigning forces of the world at the time of the Incarnation were "not of the Father, but of the world." Within the one favored and enlightened nation were hypocrisy, superficiality, bigotry and unbrotherliness, spiritual delusion; without that circle were superstition, ignorance, atheism, vice, cruelty - all the abominations into which a corrupt heathenism had sunk. Language will not tell the enormity of the world's condition. Nothing would be of any avail but a radical revolution, the overturning of all existing thoughts, habits, methods, institutions - turning the world upside down, bringing to the dust of humiliation everything that was on the throne of honor.
2. The gospel of Jesus Christ is destined to overturn it.
(1) It has adequate means for so doing - Divine truth, the aid of the Divine Spirit, a Divine institution (the Christian Church).
(2) It has the true method, a spiritual one; its weapons of warfare are not carnal, but spiritual, and therefore mighty to pull down strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4). It wins by teaching, persuading, leavening, renewing; acting upon the life through the mind, the heart, the will - through the whole spiritual nature. This is the one conquering course, the one method which really and permanently subdues.
(3) It has the assurance of success; both in the promise of a Divine Lord, and in the history of its own triumphs. It is turning the world upside down. In many districts "the idols are utterly abolished;" many "islands are waiting for his Law;" hoary systems of idolatry and iniquity are pierced through and through with the shafts of truth, and promise to fall prone as Dagon before the ark of God; the vices of civilized lands are being successfully assailed; the kingdom of error and of evil is disappearing, and the kingdom of Christ is coming. The triumphs of this last missionary century are a distinct assurance that iniquity shall be cast down and righteousness be exalted. - C.
I. HIS WORK. The synagogue was here again the scene of labor; the substance of the evangel again the theme of his discourse.
1. This is in contents ever the same; founded on the Scriptures. His special function as an apostle did not set him free from the authority of the past. Religion at any epoch is the fulfillment of all that has gone before and the prophecy of all that is to be. But let us beware of the slavery of the letter, and seek the truth of the freely developing Spirit. Fresh light and truth are to break forth at every epoch from the Scriptures. Preaching culminates in Christ. The Messiah must suffer and rise. Paul had no other theme than the crucified and risen One. The triumph of the spiritual element in mankind in and through, in spite of and over, suffering, - this is the eternal message of Christianity to mankind.
2. The results the same. Some believe, others not. The good ground for the seed is there or it is not there. Vain to seek to penetrate below this mystery. Women again are specially named as favorable to the gospel. It is fair to argue that, when the feelings and the intuitions lead the judgment, the verdict will be for Christ and his religion. Divine grace does not court those in high station; certainly it does not repel them.
II. THE BEARING OF THE ENEMIES OF THE GOSPEL.
1. Instinctive perversion of the truth. As before, jealousy, whether proceeding from self-interest or sectarian pride, attacks the apostles. Their enemies would misrepresent the emissaries of peace, as public disturbers and revolutionaries.
2. Glaring inconsistency. They commit the very offence of which they accuse the apostles. They play on the feelings of the mob. It is a sign of weakness or of insincerity when men must drag the fickle multitude into such questions. The mob may be turned momentarily to any account. If they favor the gospel, they are despised as stupid (John 7:47-49). If they can be stirred up against it, their clamor is equally used as evidence.
III. THE EPISODE or HOSPITALITY. Good Jason shelters these dangerous guests. The guest who is loved and cherished in spite of danger to the host, will bring a blessing on the head of the latter. Be mindful of hospitality - the true hospitality, which gives without asking in return (Hebrews 13:2). - J.
I. Take the whole narration as affording a glimpse into THE STATE OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE at that time.
1. The elements of hope in it - the Jewish religion and synagogue worship, the openness of Gentile mind to inquiry; the two forces of Roman order and Greek intellectual culture.
2. The elements of corruption. The rabble at the mercy of evil-minded men stirring them up. The decrees of Caesar mere despotic acts of power. Ignorance and indifference to religious questions. Had they understood Christianity, they would never have supposed it to be against civil order.
3. The certainty foreshown. The spiritual power must prevail. Such a world must be overturned.
II. THE CHRISTIANITY WHICH PAUL PREACHED.
1. Founded on the Old Testament Scriptures, and therefore seeking a basis in the synagogue.
2. Setting forth the redeeming work of Jesus Christ as its substance.
3. Adapted to all, Jews and Greeks alike, and calling the influence of women to its service.
4. Though itself peace, yet, by its contrast with the world, turning it upside down. We must be quiet and orderly in our methods, but we must expect that spiritual forces will stir up opposition. The end is with the truth. - R.
I. PAUL TAKES THE OLD TESTAMENT SCRIPTURES AS HIS TEXT-BOOK.
1. It would have been particularly like Paul to have dealt with his subject or subjects through a period of upwards of three weeks, on their own merits, and not have laden them with any unimportant connection with things that had gone before. His method shows that the connection was not deemed unimportant by him.
2. If Paul does deal with great subjects, which might have been discussed on their own merits, in very close connection with their associations with the Old Testament, it were inevitable that those associations must cling to them. They will in a sense bring with them the atmosphere, or the flagrance of it, to which they have been accustomed.
3. There can be no doubt, no contradiction, as to the connection of the promised Messiah in the Old Testament with the sacrifices, which are really its most unique feature; nor can there be any doubt of the great sacrifices themselves, that they were in the main propitiatory.
II. THE DEATH OF CHRIST IS THE OLD TESTAMENT TOPIC SELECTED OUT OF ALL OTHERS BY PAUL. For what conceivable purpose should the apostles have taken all the trouble and encountered all the dangers they did in order to reconcile the minds of the Jews, to whom they preached, to the identity of the foretold Messiah of the Scriptures with the Jesus crucified of late at Jerusalem? There could be no satisfactory reason for this but one, that the suffering of Christ unto death was the central requirement of the whole position. While the Jew from first to last objected to the subject
(1) because the crucifixion of Christ lay at his door and on his conscience;
(2) and because the Jew had never consented to believe in such a King as Christ, such a grandeur as the grandeur of the cross for him, or such a method of recovering and exalting the distinction of his own nation, as the method which went right down to the root of its decay, disorder, misery! It would surely seem that nothing could be more nugatory than to labor as apostles labored, and to suffer as they suffered, and to be filled with zeal as they were filled with zeal, if it were for mere persistence sake in the matter of an unwelcome historical identification. Whether for Jew or Gentile, the death of Christ was with the apostles the foundation theme. But with the Jew it was argued as now, with all the light and necessarily with the associations that his Scriptures must throw upon it.
III. THE INVARIABLE SEQUEL-SUBJECT OF THE DEATH OF CHRIST - THE RESURRECTION - IS PREACHED BY PAUL. AS much as all the deepest traceable significance of the death of Christ tends to humble those to whom it is preached, as "the way of salvation," so much avails the significance of his resurrection to comfort and to raise them! The glory of glories for Christ, it is, and it is ever scripturally exhibited as, the joy of joys for the believer in Christ. These, then, were the great topics upon which Paul and his companions and other apostles were constantly insisting. Let it be explained as it may, these purport to be the message of Heaven to earth; let it be objected to as it may, nothing else comes in their place. The forces that lie hidden, yet scarcely hidden, in both of these are now at least testified by an unsurpassed mass and variety of practical and irrefutable evidence. Men's hearts have been softened, humbled, and won to the exercise of profoundest trust and firmest faith by the fact of the sufferings and death of Christ. Their highest nature has answered to the quickening influence of the clearly revealed and clearly exhibited fact of the Resurrection, and so far forth its correlative, immortality. The pride of man rarely finds its gain or its object in rejecting the latter, yet is it abundantly doubtful whether any man come to it rightly, much less come to it to the purest and truest advantage, except through that approach which Paul found so often "to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness," but to "some" others even at Thessalonica (ver. 4) "the power of God and the wisdom of God." - B.
proseucha or synagogue. In either case be would have the opportunity always offered to visitors to say a word of exhortation to the people. Here, at Thessalonica, the fact that St. Paul was allowed to preach for three sabbaths in succession shows the respect commanded by his character as a rabbi, and, it may be, by his earnest eloquence. We dwell on the fact that Luke recognizes a fixed custom and settled habit of the apostle, and seems to feel that anything so orderly and regular it was singular to find in so impulsive a man. A great part of religious duty concerns the formation and the preservation of godly habits, and the subject is one which may be practically and usefully treated in a Christian congregation.
I. SETTLED HABITS. It is singular that our most common association with the word "habit should be bad habits, and that a much stronger form of teaching should go in the direction of warning against or curing bad habits, than in that of culturing and nourishing good ones. Moralists have given abundant counsel in respect of common habits of personal and social life, but religious teachers, even of the young, have not worthily recognized that habits may be formed in connection with the religious life, and that direct instruction and guidance in relation to them is imperatively needed. Our Lord bad settled habits of prayer and worship, and no Christian life can be hopefully maintained without them.
II. How HABITS GET SETTLED. By simply doing things again and again with regularity. The philosophical and the practical explanations of the formation of habits may be given; and it may be well to show how the very muscles, nerves, and senses get fixed by continuing to act in the same direction. But the point to dwell on is that habits may be settled by intelligent intention and effort. They may be a product of will, and the formation of good habits is a proper exercise of the regenerate will. It may be further shown that relations of dependence bring on all parents, masters, or teachers, the responsibility of inciting to the formation of good habits and the due nourishment anti strengthening of them.
III. How FAR DOES THE SETTLING OF HABITS DEPEND ON DISPOSITION? In all questions of moral culture or religious duty the natural dispositions of men have to be taken into account. To some habits come easily, and they can be as easily changed. Others only form habits after much self-mastery and conflict. But these are the persons who are best helped by habits when once they get them fixed. Such an impulsive man as St. Paul might even find it necessary to restrain himself by forcing himself into the orderliness of settled habits. Illustrate how differently different persons stand related to the great Christian duties - prayer, reading God's Word, worship, almsgiving, etc.
IV. How MAY SETTLED HABITS HELP THE MAY WHO HAS FORMED THEM? Illustrate, especially in relation to the religious life, two points.
1. They help him to master his own varying feeling. A man is not always disposed for private prayer or public worship, but the habit keeps him related to these things, and it is often found that, while engaged in them, the needed mood of feeling will come. Custom only may take us to worship, but eye and heart may be opened when we are there.
2. They help him to overcome adverse circumstances. Hindrances of family or business life seriously affect the man who has no religious habits. They fail to hurt the man who has his life well ordered, and his regular times and ways. The habits soon get recognized, and the incidents of life take shape so as to fit in with them. - R.T.
Jesus and the resurrection;" to the Jews he preached that "Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that Jesus is the Christ." It may be noticed that to a Jewish audience St. Paul could make a twofold appeal:
(1) to Old Testament Scripture; and
(2) to the established facts connected with the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord. To the Gentiles he could make no appeals to Scripture testimony, seeing that they had no written revelation; but even to them St. Paul could make a twofold appeal:
(1) to the natural sense of religion, of which their idolatries gave witness; and
(2) to the circle of recognized facts connected with the manifestation of Christ in the flesh. Still our appeal to men is based on
(1) the religious nature;
(2) the older revelation;
(3) the historical facts of Christ's life. St. Paul "preached the gospel as a herald. Yes, but he preached it also by long arguments, intended and constructed to produce faith or persuasion concerning Christ. Indeed, the Greek word originally means to carry on an argument by way of dialogue; question by the hearer, answer by the preacher, according to his light. That was the real apostolic method of serving Christ - a very eager, earnest, inevitable method. To preach Christ is to reason out of the Scriptures and, in a secondary degree, out of the great book of human life and experience, and also out of the great book of material nature; but in any case it is to 'reason,' to lay out, the matter as it seems to ourselves - to press it home upon all whom it concerns; to remonstrate, expostulate, entreat, and then to leave the issue with God." Fix attention on St. Paul's three points.
I. MESSIAH MUST SUFFER. Compare our Lord's teaching to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:25, 26). This suffering of their expected Messiah was the point of Old Testament teaching which the Jews missed or resisted. It is in the old Scriptures, in psalm and prophecy, plainly enough; but the conception of the Messiah as a national Deliverer and conquering King had so possessed the minds of the people that the prophetic figures of suffering were willingly turned aside, referred to some other individual, or assumed to have been exhausted in the troubles of the writers. Yet the first promise made to men after the Fall gives hint of redemption by suffering (see especially Psalm 22.; Isaiah 53.; and the Book of Lamentations). Explain the influence which the writings of David and the conflicts of the Maccabean princes had upon the national sentiment. And yet in this necessity for Messiah's sufferings is declared the distinction between a temporal and a spiritual Savior. Christ's weapons are not carnal. Of moral weapons none are mightier than suffering, and few can be used without involving suffering. The necessity for Christ's suffering may be shown
(1) in his humiliation to man's nature;
(2) in his sympathy with man's disabilities;
(3) in his bearing of man's burden. There was both suffering of feeling and suffering of circumstances.
II. MESSIAH MUST RISE. Of this the older Scriptures give witness. The kind of passages which the apostles took to prove this position are found in St. Peter's first sermons; and the necessity may be shown
(1) in that the acceptance by God of his life and work on earth must in some way be attested, and
(2) in that we must have good ground of persuasion that Christ is alive and able to continue the good work which he has begun on earth. A Savior for men who was held fast in the death-grip plainly could not deliver man from death, the worst of his foes. Such a seeming Savior could not win our confidence, for it would appear to us that he was defeated at last. And, besides, we cannot trust a thing, a work; we must trust a person who has worked and can work, and therefore Messiah must rise from the dead and be alive for evermore.
III. MESSIAH IS JESUS OF NAZARETH. The things found to be necessary are met in him, and in him alone. Show the correspondence between the facts of the Christian teaching and the requirements of Scripture prophecy, and impress the personal demand which St. Paul makes to follow on his argument; then your loyalty, your trust, your love, your life, are demanded for Jesus Messiah. - R.T.
(1) fanatical opposition to the truth as it is in Jesus;
(2) the ignorant fears of sordid and selfish minds. Yet the progress of the work must be maintained.
I. THE THOUGHTS OF MEN CONTRASTED WITH THE THOUGHTS OF GOD.
1. Of the religious fanatics and superstitious. The fears for truth leading to false alliances. Compromise of principle.
2. Of rulers. Government is apt to fear for itself, because it knows not its own true basis. Decrees of Caesar must sometimes be resisted.
3. Of the populace. Mistaken ideas of their own interests. Deceivableness under the influence of demagogues or those who pander to their lowest feelings. The blessing was rejected. Jesus was a better King for the people than Caesar.
II. THE MISSION OF THE GOSPEL IN THE WORLD.
1. To explain the Divine dealings with mankind, and reveal the purpose running through both the Jewish and Gentile histories.
2. To lift up the multitudes and deliver them from despotism and deception.
3. To proclaim a new world in place of the old, the coming of the kingdom, which is not the exaltation of an imperial throne, but the reign of God on the earth, in the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
4. To stir up in the hearts of men a desire for the better things. The world within us must be turned upside down before the true peace is built up. - R.
1. That the Christian pilgrim (and workman) may hope that shadow will soon be succeeded by sunshine; that the tumult of Thessalonica will soon be followed by the reverent inquiry of Beraea.
2. That he must expect sunshine to pass, before long, into shadow; the fruit-gathering of Beraea to yield to the flight to Athens (vers. 12-14).
3. That true nobility is in excellency of character: "These were more noble" (ver. 11). The word signifies (derivatively) those of noble birth, and it is here applied to those who had chosen the honorable course and were doing the estimable thing. This is the true, the real nobility. That which is adventitious, dependent on birth and blood, is only circumstantial, is liable to be dishonored by the chances and changes of time, is of no account with God. That which is based on character and born of wise choice, pure feeling, estimable action, is real, human, unalterable, of Divine origin, and enjoying the Divine approval. But the particular lesson of our text is - THE DUTY OF INDIVIDUAL RESEARCH. The Beraeans are commended in the sacred narrative as "more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness," etc. (ver. 11). Their excellency was in their readiness to receive and investigate, to study and search for themselves whether the new teaching was or was not in accordance with the will of God. Whence we infer:
1. That blind opposition to all new doctrine is a sin as well as a mistake. It may be that men who propound views different from those that we have held come to us from God and offer us that which is in the Scriptures, though we have not yet discovered it there. There are more things in that living Word than the wisest man has ever seen yet. Unqualified resistance of doctrine which is different from "that which we have received to hold" may be the rejection of God's own truth; in that case it is both injurious and wrong.
2. That it is the duty of every Christian man to test all new doctrine by the teaching of the Divine Word. We are to search the Scriptures whether these things are so or not. There is no excuse for declining to do this; for
(1) God has placed his Word well within reach of us all. It is in a small compass; it is printed in our own language (no book so lends itself to translation and is so widely translated); it can be obtained for a small sum.
(2) He has so formed us and so written it that it is level to our understanding; he has given us the necessary mental faculties to comprehend it, and he has made the substance of it so simple, plain, appreciable, that the wayfaring man may rejoice in it. It is not the recondite, abstruse, mystical utterance which some disclosures are.
(3) He is ready to grant us his own Divine aid in mastering and applying it. For what can we ask the help of his Holy Spirit more confidently than for the study of his own Word? When is he more certain to fulfill his promise (Luke 11:13) than when we ask for his enlightening influence as we "search the Scriptures" (John 5:39)? It is not only our right but our ditty to listen to all and to try all (1 John 4:1); to "judge for ourselves what is right" (Luke 12:57). It is God's plain will concerning us that we should all bring what we hoar to the standard of his own revealed will in his Word. To do this effectually, we must study that Word
(c) devoutly. - C.
I. WILLING AND UNPREJUDICED RECEPTION OF NOVEL VIEWS, This spontaneous receptiveness springs only from the rooted love of truth. Let us not forget how startling and how shocking was the story of a crucified Messiah to Jewish prejudice; it may help us to appreciate the candor of these men.
II. INDEPENDENT INQUIRY. They did not carry on a battle of notions with notions; they went to the sources, they studied the documents and facts. Let Protestants learn a lesson, and be true to themselves. In our time people are only beginning to understand the Scriptures in the new light thrown by history upon them. The study of the Bible is a right, a duty, and a profound science. Hasty generalizations and fixed opinions must give way before larger light.
III. TRUE FAITH AND FREE INQUIRY GO HAND-IN-HAND. It is only the profound believer who can afford to doubt. The faith which condemns inquiry, or stops it at a certain point, or is afraid of" going too far," is a blind faith. On the other hand, the "free-thinking," which owns no religions impulse, is never deep nor sound thinking. The sincere spirit of inquiry, as seen in the noblest scientific men, is closely allied to the true evangelical temper. What we all need is a living love in all our studies, as opposed to a dead and notional knowledge. The enthusiasm for truth is a noble form of faith; and each who pursues it for himself will enjoy a measure of its rewards. We must try the grounds of faith as we try the metal of coins, and with the greater attention, in that more is at stake. No resting upon the ipsi dixit even of an apostle satisfied the Beraeans, nor ought it to satisfy us. - J.
ceased from their work, they and their motives and their love might well have been objects of suspicion. But the continuity of their devotion, and the renewal again and again of work after disappointment upon disappointment, protect them from suspicion, and even add to their praise. It is one of the greater practical difficulties of life to resist successfully the distressing and disintegrating natural operation of perpetual disappointments, and it is one of the severer tests of an uplifted faith and enduring purpose that "often foiled" is not accepted as failure, and that "cast down" does not mean "destroyed." On the other hand,
(1) had the apostles been enabled to hold their ground against every attack of the spirit of persecution, this would have been equivalent to an unceasing repetition of miracle; and the enmity of the human heart might have been silenced indeed, but long before it was destroyed, or had proved its own intrinsic collapse. And
(2) those apostles would not have covered anything like the same ground, nor secured anything like the same experience of human nature. The language of these verses is one result, simple enough and direct, of the experience that came from the comparison of one people with another. The contrast is brought sharply into prominence by the conduct of Beraea, in quick succession upon that of Thessalonica. The people of Berea are boldly pronounced "more noble than those of Thessalonica." Let us consider the ennobling reasons.
I. READINESS TO RECEIVE THE WORD.
1. There is, indeed, a "readiness to receive" which marks greed.
2. There is a readiness to receive which marks credulity.
3. There is a readiness to receive which marks the inertness of indifference.
4. There is a readiness to receive which marks a nature conscious of need, and responsive to the proper supply of that need, when proffered. The readiness to receive which now distinguished the Bereans marked thus a good and a healthy and a spiritual instinct. For their readiness was turned toward receiving a "word" that was true and pure and not flattering, but faithful to reprove and to teach, as well as to stimulate and uplift by promises. Such readiness as this is noble and ennobling. It saves souls pining. It saves wasted energies. It obviates vagrant pursuits. And for all such it substitutes a genuine education.
II. DETERMINATION TO BE COMPETENT TO "GIVE A REASON OF THE HOPE" WHICH THERE HAD BEEN "READINESS TO RECEIVE."
1. The very attitude of the inquirer has something of the noble in it, when compared with the custom of the decrier.
2. The mastery of prejudice is in itself a sign of nobility, while the reign of prejudice means an obstructiveness which infers to none greater loss than to the subject of it.
3. The searcher into truth does in the very act ingratiate himself with truth. "Happy is the man" who seeks for it as for silver, and searches for it as for hid treasure (Proverbs 2:2-5).
4. Openness to evidence comes inevitably of inquiring honestly, as surely as prejudice makes a shut heart and undiscerning mind. Many persons do not see because they never set themselves to look. They scarcely think it is given them to use their own natural powers.
5. Inquiringness has it in it to infer advantage
(1) to individual happiness;
(2) to social kindliness;
(3) to public and general progress.
6. Inquiringness, when it is turned to things of higher and deeper significance, to things invisible and spiritual, to the great themes of the soul and its need of a Savior, to the grand themes of God and his pitying love to man - this inquiringness carries its own praise in it. It is bound to enrich him who practices it and extorts conviction from the unwilling, while the spontaneous tribute of commendation is laid at its feet by the just and good. That kind of moral certainty that lies in strong conviction is the price won by all those who will take the trouble, in matters of Divine import, to "search" whether and how they agree and hold together. - B.
prejudice. "With a quick and clear intelligence they searched the Scriptures daily to see whether they really did speak of a Christ who should suffer anti rise again. The Berean converts have naturally been regarded, especially among those who urge the duty or claim the right of private judgment, as a representative instance of the right relations of reason and faith, occupying a middle position between credulity and skepticism. The attitudes of men towards truth, as freshly revealed, or as revealed in fresh forms, are threefold:
(1) some are willfully antagonistic;
(2) some are weakly receptive;
(3) some are intelligently skeptical.
The word skepticism" may be used in a good as well as in a bad sense. It properly stands for that disposition to question and doubt which is one of the features of the thoughtful and inquiring mind.
I. SKEPTICISM AS DEPENDENT ON NATURAL DISPOSITION. There are, in respect of this spirit, marked diversities in nations and in races. And there are answering differences in families and in individuals. Usually the skeptical spirit is found in men rather than in women, who are as remarkable for their receptivity as men for their tendency to criticism. The beginnings of what will afterwards appear as skepticism are found in children. Some will question the why and wherefore of everything that is told them, while others will open wide eyes, and take in as real, the strangest fairy tales that can be told them. A great part of the responsibility of parents and teachers lies in the need for culturing-cultivating or restraining - the early signs of the skeptical spirit. Where the skeptical spirit is unduly developed the corrective spirit of faith must be nourished; and where credulity is excessive, the mind must he quickened to doubt. Ministers need to remember that both classes are found in their congregations, and that both classes have to be wisely led to intelligent faith.
II. SKEPTICISM AS FOSTERED BY INTELLECTUAL PRIDE. This is one of the gravest difficulties of our age, in which remarkable advances, in knowledge have been made. Those advances have chiefly borne relation to the sphere of the physical sciences, and in that sphere pride is readily nourished, because, apparently, all depends on men's own observation and research. It becomes easy for men to say - What we observe and know is the truth; and there is no other truth than "truth of fact." So we find all around us much skepticism in relation to the moral, spiritual, revelational spheres: a disposition to unreasonable doubt; to doubting for doubting's sake. This needs to be wisely but firmly rebuked, and its real source, in mere pride of intellect, should be pointed out. The physical is not the only sphere through which God has revealed himself to his creatures; and it never can be a sign of human wisdom that the best three parts of God's revelation are set aside as the dreams of dreamers.
III. SKEPTICISM AS A RESULT OF ASSOCIATIONS. As a disposition of mind, skepticism takes a place among infectious mental diseases, communicated very readily by association. A skeptical workman will infect his fellows. A skeptical student will change the tone of his college. A skeptical member of a family will destroy the recipiency of a whole family. So we, who have any kind of trust of others, need to be watchful over the influence of such persons. A minister's influence in a congregation may be seriously resisted by the power among the people of one unreasonably critical and skeptical member. He will look with high hope on every sign of the Berean spirit, the spirit of intelligent inquiry and research, but he has fewer things that call for his watchful care than the infection of the skeptical spirit, which will at once impair his influence as a Christian teacher. And the association of books of a prevailing critical and unbelieving character will be found quite as dangerous as that of skeptical persons.
IV. SKEPTICISM AS AN IMPULSE TO INQUIRY. This is its good side; and in this the example of the Beraeans is commended to us. It is the spirit that seeks for two things:
(1) comprehension, or the distinct, clear, and intelligent understanding of any teachings; and
(2) verification, or adequate and reasonable grounds for belief. But it is characteristic of intelligent inquiry that it seeks its proofs within the spheres of its subjects. If it inquires concerning physical principles, it seeks for proof and illustration in physical facts. If its sphere be moral or spiritual, it asks for moral or spiritual reason and proof. So the Bereans did not confuse the spheres and domains of inquiry. The matter was one of prophetic revelation and of answering historical fact, and therefore their inquiries concerned
(1) the actual contents of the revelation, and
(2) the credibility of the witnesses to the historical facts. Conclude by showing the relations of skepticism to faith. The noble man, the intelligent believer, must have won faith out of skepticism - in the sense of humble and earnest inquiry. Those who are simply receptive have their mission in the world, and we desire to institute no unworthy, no discouraging comparisons; but for the active forms of Christian work, and for the emergencies of the Christian conflict, those are needed who have won faith out of fight. The Bereans are commended because they doubted and inquired; and yet this is the very thing which many nowadays would have feared. But one thing made their inquiries so safe - they led them to the Scriptures, and to the searching of God's revealed Word. - R.T.
I. THE TRUE PREPARATION FOR DIVINE BLESSINGS.
1. A state of mind. At liberty to think. Open to teaching. Desire for instruction. The two kinds of skepticism (skepsis), inquiry for truth, inquiry for reasons against faith.
2. A course of action and habit. Reading of the Scriptures daily, with a set purpose, devoutly, in connection with the preached Word, with an intention to follow their guidance.
II. THE TRUE FAITH SETTLED ON ITS BROAD FOUNDATION.
1. As distinguished from mere individual self-assertion and ignoble pride.
2. As accepting the standard of revealed truth.
3. As apostolic, seeing that "those things were so," i.e. as Paul represented them. The Pauline faith was the only faith which linked together the Old Testament and the New.
III. RESULTS FOLLOWING THE USE OF MEANS. A lesson to both preachers and hearers. - R.
then and now. Then idolatry was regnant; now it is dethroned. Then the worship of the living God had but one representative in that populous city; now there is not one idolater to be discovered there. To Paul those statues, meeting him at every turn and almost at every step, were abominable idols; to us they are interesting relics of a distant age.
I. THE SADNESS OF THIS SPECTACLE AS IT APPEARED TO PAUL. The aspect which Athens wore to the apostle is expressed by the sacred historian. It was a "city wholly given to idolatry," or filled with idols. He would have discovered on inquiry if he did not already know, that these statues were not worshipped as gods themselves by their devotees. Nevertheless, he would have called them "idols;" for they were distinctly condemned by the commandments of the Lord (Exodus 20:4, 5); they were prohibited by the Law of God as idolatrous. Though the intelligence of Athens saved its citizens from idolatry in its last and worst stage, the identification of the image with the deity, it had not saved it from the idolatry of an earlier stage, the association of the image with the deity it represented. Against this form of sin, so severely denounced in Scripture, so offensive to God, so dangerous and delusive to man, the spirit of Paul rose in strong rebellion. The sight of its outward manifestation filled him with inexpressible sadness; his "spirit was embittered."
II. THE ASPECT WHICH THIS ATHENIAN STATUARY WEARS TO US. TO US it is a sad proof that the world by wisdom does not know God. Human wisdom can never hope to go further than it went in Athens. If ever, anywhere, human philosophy, human art, the human imagination could have reached truth and found God, it would have triumphed at Athens. But there was the melancholy exhibition of error and immorality. The utmost exertion of human thought had ended in
(1) the worship of many gods;
(2) the worship of gods to whom lust and cruelty were ascribed;
(3) the worship of these gods with debasing rites.
No city in the world gives surer or sadder proof that sin so injures and disables us that our unaided manhood cannot rise to the sacred heights of truth and purity.
III. THE SAD SPECTACLE IT SUGGESTS TO US NOW'. If Athens needed the ministry of Paul so terribly then, how much must all heathen cities require the gospel of Christ today! In the vast populations of the Asiatic and African continents, and among the hundred "islands of the sea," where human intelligence has never attempted to scale the heights which Grecian philosophers tried to reach, what awful degradations must exist and do exist! If Athens was an idol-covered city, what must be the condition of the barbarous towns and villages of an unevangelized world? What sights are there to stir our spirits now! What idolatry, what superstition, what cruelty, what lasciviousness, what falsehood, what dishonesty! what utter absence of piety, holiness, and love! what an absolute reversal of God's first thought of human nature and human life! What infinite reason to address ourselves to -
IV. THE SACRED DUTY TO WHICH IT CALLS US. "Therefore disputed he... daily" (ver. 17). The Christian Church must gird itself to the work of meeting pagan error with Divine truth. It is a great task to undertake. But as the lonely apostle went on, single-handed, with his mission, trusting in him "to whom all power is given in heaven and in earth," and knowing that "the foolishness of God is wiser than man," and that "the weak things of the world can confound the things which are mighty," even so must we. If only the Church went forth to this its work with half the zeal with which the spirit-stilled apostle wrought out his life-work, the time would not be counted by centuries when the idols would be utterly abolished, and the Lord Jesus Christ would alone be exalted. - C.
logos or dialectic of Plato and Aristotle and their successors and rivals ruled the world. What could the fanatical Jew have to say? An immortal discourse is the reply to these questions of curiosity.
I. GOD UNKNOWN, YET KNOWABLE. The speaker recognizes the reverence of the Athenians. The heathen were prepared for the gospel, all the more from the weariness and failure of their age-long "groping after God." In the inscription on the altar was the witness of the desire to worship all forms of divinity, whether to them known or unknown. Both Greeks and Romans recognized, above and beyond the definite gods and goddesses of the Pantheon, the indefinable in Deity, the mystery of that Essence, to us and to all, as to them, incomprehensible. So far we are all on a level with the Athenians. But there are special senses in which God is unknown to the worshipper.
1. To the sensual and sin-loving heart. Many there are whose heart is like the Agora of Athens or a Pantheon; one idol stands beside another. Wrath, pride, lust, avarice, treachery, ambition, - these are their gods. And again, science, art, money, the husband, the wife, the goods of this world. And in a neglected corner stands the altar with the inscription, "To the unknown God!"
2. To the wise in their own conceit. "For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God;" "He resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the lowly."
3. To the formalists and externalists in religion. For the drama of an external ritual is rather a screen between the soul and God, if the soul be not bent on finding him.
4. To all who seek him otherwise than with the pure and lowly heart, coming by the Way, the Truth, and the Life to the Father. Though in one sense" God is great; I know him not," must be the confession of all hearts, from the lowliest to the wisest, in another the good news of the gospel proclaims - God may be known, is known; and every name by which he is known resolves itself into love. He is concealed, yet revealed; unknown, yet known; defined, yet indefinable. 'Tis a great yet a small part of his ways that we can understand.
II. GOD REVEALED IN THE CREATION. He has made the world and all things therein. Animate and inanimate nature, body and spirit, all have the stamp of omnipotence and of omniscience in the unity of a Mind. Every step in science makes more clear this unity; and in the last resort this unity is not conceivable as "law or force" merely, but only as the living and the loving God. In his infinite majesty, heaven is his throne, earth his footstool. He is in himself both Temple and Inhabitant. The voice of God bursts asunder the system of idolatry and superstition. The latter denies that God can be found only in fixed places, by means of fixed rites and mediations. The true temple is everywhere; "The walls of the world are that." In the Church, where the gospel of his Son is heard, and above all in the heart, where he indwells in the power of his Spirit, is the temple of the living God.
III. GOD REVEALED IN THE GOVERNMENT OF THE WORLD, As love. Needing nothing from men's hands; they incessantly feel the need of him. Life itself is sweet, and in that sweetness we have an instance of his love. There is a joy in breathing, moving about, looking, learning, experiencing manifold experiences in this "fair world of God." And each and every pleasure, lower and higher, leads up to God and his love. The tie that binds us to our kind is an expression of the same love. Sympathy is possible, is actual, between men of every color and clime. The mechanism of thought and feeling is alike in all. All men suffer and rejoice from the same causes. The unity of the human race reflects the unity of God's mind in wisdom and in love. Men form one people, one race: this is the great thought the gospel throws upon the world, and teaches us to say, in deeper senses than the heathen knew, "I am a man; nothing human is foreign to me." He has set bounds to man's habitations. All the effects of climate, of physical configuration of the earth, distribution of land and water, so interesting to the student of man and his dwelling-place, are conditions fixed by the same wise and loving hand. God is in history. His thoughts alone are living. Athens was not for ever, nor Rome; but the Divine thought, whence proceeded the culture of Greece, the law and order of Rome, lives on, and is revealed in changing forms from age to age. And towards the "far-off goal" of an infinite love, we doubt not, the whole of creation and of history moves. The end of all is the union of man with God. Though in one sense he "needeth not anything," in another he needs all - the whole love of his whole rational universe. The process of thought in the world is a process of "groping after" and of finding God. God wills that we should find him, but only as the result of our seeking. Therefore he "half reveals" and" half conceals" himself. He is far off, yet near; in each and all the spheres of our knowledge. Our being rests on his; ours are borrowed lives (Isaiah 54:6; 1 Corinthians 8:6). "In the Father," says Cyprian, "we are, from him all life comes; in the Son, who lives, we have life; in the Spirit, who is the Breath of all flesh, we have our being." His offspring we are - by creation in his image, by redemption through his Son. This truth we know from Scripture, from the human heart, from life; and the effect of this knowledge may well be to produce holy humility, mixed with confidence and joy.
IV. TRUE THEOLOGY AND WORSHIP.
1. The heathen draw a wrong inference freer, the true saying on men being the offspring of God. If we are of Divine origin, they seemed to argue, then the gods are of human kind, and images of them may be made. On the contrary, Paul argues, those who are of Divine origin despise themselves if they render worship to any but the supreme Head and Lord. When we say that God is in affinity with man, we do not affirm that man can represent him in thought, much less in images of plastic art. The philosopher Xenophanes had said that if the animals had gods, they would imagine them in their own likeness - the god of the horse would be a horse, etc. The truth is that only our ideal or higher nature is the mirror of God.
2. In conscience we find his clearest reflex. And ignorance of him in this nearest sphere of knowledge is not excusable, as St. Paul teaches in Romans 1. Men did not like to retain God in their knowledge. At the same time, the conscience needs light from without. There are dark ages of the world, when men have comparatively little light, and which may be viewed as ages of God's forbearance, wherein he "overlooks" much that men do, "not knowing what they do."
3. But Christ is a Turning-point of history. Before him, the period of "ignorance;" with him and after him, the true light. Before him, forbearance; henceforward, the just judgment of the world. The description of the person and functions of Christ. He is Man; a member of humanity, a partaker of human flesh and blood, subject to death. As High Priest, he is one "touched with a feeling of our infirmities." And as Judge, he is qualified on the same grounds. It is a common feeling which requires that a man should be judged by his peers. Knowledge and pity, severity and compassion, are united in Christ.
4. The call to repentance. It is an urgent call. The more indifferent and light-hearted the listeners, the more urgently it must sound. It is an absolute call, admitting of no exceptions. No ignorance and no philosophy, no dignity or rank, can exempt men from the immediate command of God to repent. Amidst the depths of sin and the heights of virtue, in paganism and in Christendom, the new heart and the new life are indispensable.
V. THE RECEPTION OF THE GOSPEL AT ATHENS. (Ver. 32.)
1. Some scoffed, some procrastinated. These are ever the two main classes of those who turn a deaf ear to the Divine Word. Some make light of the truth, some put off attention to it until the "more convenient season." "Faith in to-morrow, instead of Christ, is Satan's nurse for man's perdition." Paul departed from among them, and came not back; the "tender grace" of the day of salvation vanished, not again to be found.
2. But some believed. Of whom Dionysius among men alone is mentioned; and of the women, Damaris, with some others. We need, however, to remind ourselves that great numbers are no sign of the true Church. There are many more of common stones than of jewels in its structure, according to the ordinary valuation; but God's measures are not ours. According to ancient testimonies, a bright light went forth from the Church at Athens. The splendid intellectual culture of Athens remains the heritage of the few; the gospel pours its common blessing on mankind. The relation of the Christian to the art and science of the world.
(1) He is not to despise them. The master-works of genius are gifts of God; and in their way they bear testimony to the universal striving of the human spirit after the reconciliation of sense and spirit, the human with the Divine. The aberrations of great spirits are more instructive than the meaningless commonplaces of ordinary minds.
(2) At the same time, he is to apply to them the Christian scale of judgment. Christianity cannot countenance immoral art or godless science. If tile heart of the artist and scientific man be sanctified, their works and studies will tend to the glory of God. - J.
I. The connection of the whole with THE HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY. The Greek mind evangelized. The function of Greek thought in the development of doctrine. The contrast between the gospel and philosophy. The step towards the conquest of the world.
II. The illustration of THE APOSTOLIC METHOD. Adaptation of the truth to every class of mind. Difference of the preaching when the foundation of the Jewish Scriptures was for the time forsaken. Important difference of results, showing that there must be something intervening between idolatry and Christian faith, besides natural religion. The resurrection must stand on its true foundation, or it is mocked at. The spiritual truth is mere "babbling" to those who look upon it from the naturalistic point of view.
III. The picture of HUMAN HELPLESSNESS presented. Intellectual restlessness of Athens. The judgment of God overhanging the moral corruption. Times of ignorance. Idolatry, the more hideous in its decorations of artistic beauty. Worship of the human body. Social miseries of the Greek world. The one man among the multitude, type of the spiritual force which, though a grain of mustard seed in apparent magnitude, was a germ of life in the midst of the universal decay and death. So in the decline and fall of the Roman empire. A great lesson on
(1) the sufficiency and power of the gospel;
(2) the responsibility of man. - R.
I. THAT ALL THINGS PROCEED FROM THE INTELLIGENT OPERATION OF THE LIVING GOD, and are by him sustained. That all our springs are not in any" it," but "in him (Psalm 87:7); that every gift cometh down from the Father of lights, in whom," etc. (James 1:17); that he (a Divine One) made the worlds, and upholds all things, etc. (Hebrews 1:2, 3; Genesis 1:1; ver. 24; etc.).
II. THAT THE HUMAN SPIRIT, AS DISTINCT FROM THE HUMAN' BODY, IS THE ONE OBJECT OF INESTIMABLE VALUE.
III. THAT THE CHIEF GOOD AND FINAL END IN HUMAN' LIFE IS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Not ἀταραζία through φρόνησις, but righteousness by faith and love.
1. The being counted right (or righteous) by God.
2. The possession of inward, spiritual rectitude.
3. The exhibition of integrity in word and deed. This
(1) by faith in Jesus Christ, and
(2) as the outgrowth of love to him.
IV. THAT THE POSSESSION OF RIGHTEOUSNESS ISSUES IN PEACE AND JOY. We are not to regard a state of mental equability as the great end to be diligently and persistently attained, as the one supreme accomplishment; but to "seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness," in the assurance that, thus reeking, we shall find a "peace which passes understanding," and a joy which cannot be taken from us.
V. THAT THERE IS AN ASSURED FUTURE FOR THE FAITHFUL, WHICH WILL REALIZE THE LARGEST HUMAN HOPE: that the mind does not perish with the body, but lives on in another world, entering a brighter realm, moving in a broader sphere, living a fuller life, in the home of God, in the abode of purity and blessedness. - C.
I. THAT A DIVINE FATHER, AND NOT AN INEXORABLE FATE, IS THE RULING POWER IN THE UNIVERSE. It is not true that Deity is subject to all-conquering fate; it is true that all circumstance is under Divine control.
II. THAT CONTROLLED AND CONSECRATED FEELING, NOT AN INFLEXIBLE APATHY, IS THE HIGHEST ATTAINABLE CONDITION. We are not to quench our feeling, or to impose on ourselves or others by the appearance of apathy. We are to weep and to rejoice; but
(1) our sorrow and our joy are both to be regulated - we are to "let our moderation appear unto all men;" and
(2) our sorrow and our joy are both to be consecrated to God, - the one is to be borne with a resignation which is not a sullen endurance of the inevitable, but a filial acceptance of the decision of the wise and faithful Father of spirits; the other is to be accepted with thankfulness, and dedicated to the service of the Supreme One and the surrounding ones.
IV. THAT NEITHER ULTIMATE ABSORPTION, NOR UTTER DESTRUCTION, BUT AN EVER-LIVING SPIRIT IN A GLORIFIED BODY, IS THE HOPE OF THE WISE AND TRUE. "He preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. - C.
I. THE CURIOSITY WHICH IS CONTEMPTUOUS. "What will this babbler say?" said some using the language of superciliousness. They evidently thought it was hardly worth while to pause m their gossip to listen to this new speaker; nevertheless they condescended to hear him for five minutes or a quarter of an hour! When men assume this attitude toward Christ and his gospel, they may expect to gain nothing at all from him. "God resisteth the proud." Except we be converted from the spirit of contemptuousness, we shall not enter the kingdom of heavenly truth.
II. THE CURIOSITY WHICH IS FRIVOLOUS. The audience on the Acropolis included some who were not contemptuous, but simply curious; they wanted to hear "some new thing" (ver. 21), to learn what was to be said of these "strange gods" which this Jew was "setting forth" (ver. 18). If there is nothing directly unfavorable, there is nothing actually favorable in this spirit of undevout inquisitiveness. No one attending the sanctuary in this temper has any right to expect a blessing. The disciple who brings nothing better than this to the feet of the Master may expect to go away unenlightened. But he may not depart unblessed.- Of the men who clave to Paul and believed (ver. 34), there were probably some who came on no high purpose bent, and who found more than they sought. Better come and listen, even from empty curiosity, than refuse to hear; better bring in the multitude with this inducement, than leave them outside in ignorance and error.
III. THE CURIOSITY WATCH IS EARNEST. Shall we not think that among the "certain men" who did believe, there were found a few who went up the steps of Mars' Hill sincerely desirous of learning what was true? Was not Dionysius or Damaris one whose heart had some "hunger after righteousness"? Certainly it is they who come in order that they may know the truth, who are curious to hear that they may be prompt to do the will of God - it is they who are likely to "be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding." "Of such is the kingdom of heaven;" and to such it is that the Master says," Seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." Those who earnestly desire to know
(1) what is the character and the attitude of God,
(2) what are the real conditions of salvation and eternal life,
(3) how they may best live to please God and to benefit the world, - these shall not return empty-minded; they shall be filled (Matthew 5:6). - C.
To the unknown God. Great opportunity well employed. No dreary denunciations. No lowering the gospel by admixture with human speculations. He presages the time when the intellect of Greece and the power of Rome would both alike be Christ's. He dared their mockery, to win their hearts.
I. A PERSONAL SAVIOR. Jesus:
1. Presented as Divine. Setter forth of strange gods." The facts of the gospel so described as to reveal the Divinity.
2. Set forth as an Object of trust. Just what such minds required, to look away from self and the vagaries of the mind. Names enough in the ancient world. This Name above every name.
II. A PRACTICAL APPEAL.
1. To a true worship in place of the false. Religion universal. Paul's preaching was not intended merely to change the forms, but the substance; to place religion on its true foundation, not as man's offering to propitiate the Deity, but as his acceptance of God's love - in fellowship. Jesus is in the midst of us, therefore we worship no longer an unknown God.
2. To a new life in place of the old. A great city like Athens reminds us of the world's wants - power to live a better life. He did not preach a mere story of the past, but a proclamation of a new kingdom of grace, which should make all life afresh. Words! Examples! They had them. But they wanted power. There was a new fact before their eyes, a living man changed and made from a persecutor into a missionary. Nothing like it in Greece.
3. To a great future. The resurrection. Personal prospect. A fact more than arguments. Messages to Corinth. "In Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15.). May such doctrine prove its sufficiency in us! - R.
care for, to go about up and down the market, asking each other, 'Is there any news?'" The restless inquisitiveness of the Athenian character had all along been proverbial. It did not alone distinguish the Athenians, though it gained a peculiar prominence in their case. It has returned upon man in such power, now that telegraphs and newspapers bind the nations together, that it may profitably be made the subject of Christian meditation.
I. IT SOMETIMES COMES TO BE A DISEASE, A mental disease. A restlessness that we see illustrated in some children, who tire at once of their toys and crave for something new. We see it in the world of fashion, in which garments are speedily set aside, and the last new color, or shape, or material is eagerly sought. It is equally shown in the passion for the newest books, the last newspaper, the freshest opinion, the present excitement. It even afflicts Christian people, who in a crowd run after the newest revivalist, and cry for the latest novelty in doctrine or in Church method. It is a kind of feverish delirium, which palls the appetite, vitiates the taste, and makes patient continuance in well-doing impossible. It needs to be treated as a disease, and its influence in a family, in social life, and in the Church needs to be carefully checked. It is not progress that is usually sought, because true progress ever goes slowly; it is mere novelty that is sought. We may generally say that "the old is better."
II. IT IS ONE OF THE SIGNS OF OVERDONE CIVILIZATION. It is a marked feature of a nation that is struggling up into civilization, that all its members must be workers, and none can be kept in idleness. To such a nation mere news is the amusement of its resting leisure hours; it cannot be the sober business of its days. But when nations have long reached the high levels of civilization, wealth has increased, multitudes can live in idleness, and, having nothing better to do, they may run after the latest stranger in art, or science, or music, or politics, or religion, and gathering round him say, "May we know what this new doctrine is, whereof thou speakest?" This is well illustrated in the case of the Athenians, who were surfeited with art and philosophy and superstitious religion. A city full of wealthy idlers, no doubt of good taste and cultured minds, who had nothing better to do than to run after the last new thing. The antidote for this evil is the preaching of the responsibility resting on every man to be a worker, and a worker for the general welfare. Nobody has any right to food and life save as they work, in some good way, for it. Workers soon get interest enough to stop their yearning for "something new." Illustrate how these things may be applied to Church life. Church work is the great remedy for the hindering passion for novelty.
III. YET IT IS AN INDICATION OF THE UNIVERSAL ASPIRATION FOR IMMORTALITY. There is good in it; the evil of it lies
(1) in the forms it takes, and
(2) in the excessive degrees of its exercise.
That something in us all which cannot rest, which must seek for something more; which rises up above all bondages and limitations; which is as
"An infant crying in the night, is but the aspiration of souls made in the image of God, who cry for permanence, for holiness, for rest, for God, and "can find no rest until they find rest in him." We must seek after something new, on and on, until we find God. And Scripture inspires us to such seeking; for it assures us that "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath the heart of man conceived, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." And though, in measure, these have been revealed unto us by the Spirit, yet again we are led on by the Word; for "it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." - R.T.
is but the aspiration of souls made in the image of God, who cry for permanence, for holiness, for rest, for God, and "can find no rest until they find rest in him." We must seek after something new, on and on, until we find God. And Scripture inspires us to such seeking; for it assures us that "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath the heart of man conceived, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." And though, in measure, these have been revealed unto us by the Spirit, yet again we are led on by the Word; for "it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." - R.T.
abundantly religious. He did not conclude this from witnessing their numerous divinities, but from the inscription he had read on an altar, "To the unknown God." Adroitly seizing on this as proof positive that they were in ignorance as to the true object of worship, he said that he could declare to them the Deity whom they were ignorantly or unconsciously worshipping. Then he spoke out the everlasting truth concerning the living God, which he had learned, and in the knowledge of which he stood superior, not only to those degenerate philosophers, but to the wisest man that had ever spoken their language and immortalized their city.
I. THE NATURE OF GOD.
1. Paul taught the unity of the Godhead. "God that made the world," etc.; a very noticeable singular, He taught, concerning his nature, that this was:
2. Spiritual; such that it is a vain and senseless thing to try to make any likeness of him. "God is a Spirit," we ourselves being his children, and it is not in gold or stone or silver to produce any sort of semblance of him (ver. 29).
3. Independent; so that he does not need the service of human hands. Except as expressions of our feelings of penitence, or trust, or gratitude, or homage, all offerings are an insult to his majesty and his power (ver. 25; and see Psalm 1:8-13).
4. Omnipresent. We need repair to the interior of no temple walls to find him, for he is "Lord of heaven and earth" (ver. 24), filling immensity with his presence. He is net far from any one of us; he compasses our path and our lying down; he besets us behind and before; we cannot go where he is not (ver. 27).
5. Sovereign. He is Lord of heaven and earth; he is the Divine Ruler of all.
II. THE DIVINE RELATION TO MANKIND. We not only want to know generally who and what God is; we also and equally want to know what is the particular relation in which he stands to us. And what, we ask, does he desire we should be to him? Here is the answer:
1. He is the Maker of the world in which we live: he "made the world and all things therein" (ver. 24).
2. He is the Divine Benefactor from whom all blessings flow: "He giveth to all life," etc. (ver. 25).
3. He is the Divine Provider and Arranger of all human affairs (ver. 26). His intelligence has foreseen, and his wisdom directed everything.
4. He is the Father of all human spirits: "We are also his off spring" (ver. 28). And we are so in that
(1) he is the Author (ver. 26) of our common humanity (ver. 26);
(2) he is sustaining us all in constant existence: "In him we live," etc. (ver. 28);
(3) he is deeply interested in us, and desires our approach to him; he has so wrought that men should "seek him, if haply they might feel after him and find him." He desires to be sought and found of us, that we may commune with him and rejoice in him, that we may attain to his likeness and prepare for his nearer presence. If such is the nature of God, and such the relation in which he stands to us, then:
(1) How pitiful a thing is
(a) heathenism, the ignorance of God; and
(b) atheism, the denial of God; and
(c) indifference, the rejection of God!
(2) How excellent and how wise a thing is
(a) reverence for God;
(b) obedience to God;
(c) an earnest effort to obtain the Divine favor, and to live in his love! - C.
I. THE WORLD'S IGNORANCE OF GOD INCONSISTENT WITH ACCEPTABLE WORSHIP OF HIM.
1. Athens the representation of the moral helplessness of men without revelation. Knowledge which is ignorance.
2. The practical view of the Divine character. Indifference to righteousness, vain trust in benevolence, mere sentiment of dependence.
II. THE FAITH OF THE CHRISTIAN THE TRUE BASIS OF RELIGION.
1. As a simple acceptance of Divine teaching.
2. As a growth of knowledge through experience and practical endeavor. "If any man will do his will," etc.
3. The actual fellowship of the spiritual life. Influence of the higher mind and larger soul upon the lower. Effect of loving self-sacrifice in opening the mind to larger views of the Divine character.
4. The opportunities of the world rightly used. Nature leading to God, not enslaving the soul. Culture lilting up the intellect and desires. "All things are ours." - R.
I. THE TRUE APOSTLE OF CHRISTIANITY PURPORTS TO "DECLARE" WHAT THE WORLD SAYS IS "UNKNOWN," i.e. GOD. He "declares:"
1. A personal Creator-God, against Epicureans and all various others who either held the world to have been ever or to have come of chance. Neither Jesus himself nor Scripture records generally from beginning to end presuppose atheism, nor apply themselves to prove the existence of a personal Deity. But when nature, with all her ten thousand voices, has nevertheless let down men to a degraded unbelief, or when men have thus let down nature, these do pronounce and "declare" in no faltering tone this one starting-point of all upward progress, all knowledge, and all goodness (ver. 24).
2. A Creator-God, the opposite of depending for anything on man, inasmuch as all men depend for all things on him, including the initial breath of life, and thereupon every breath they draw.
3. A Creator-God who, so far as this world is concerned, knows one family alone, but that family the universal one.
4. A Creator-God who does not forsake men to their own inventions, but is the present and ruling Providence among them. There is such a reality as an administration of the wide empire on earth, and that administration in each part, each greater or less distribution, is Divine, is that of God, the sovereign God.
5. A Creator-God who admits of no proxy whatsoever of idol fashion.
II. THE TRUE APOSTLE OF CHRISTIANITY UNDERTAKES TO MAKE AN UNFALTERING AFFIRMATION OF THE THINGS MOST DISTINCTIVE OF CHRISTIANITY. These shall be facts or truths, not grown of reason, not even surmised of reason; very likely not, in all their bearings and all the questions they suggest, such as can be accounted for by reason. They occupy by intention a unique place. They come of the pronouncement of One who brings all-sufficient credentials, and whom to disbelieve rationally is a greater difficulty for reason by far than to believe. This grand, surpassing voice of Heaven is here given as threefold.
1. It bids repentance on the part of man.
2. It declares judgment to come by Jesus Christ.
3. It declares hereunto the resurrection of Jesus Christ; and certainly, if the resurrection of Jesus Christ is here instanced as speaking volumes for his likely judgeship, it will carry all that is necessary for showing men present at his solemn judgment-bar. Evidently nothing so much arrested men, when the world's clock was then striking, as this announcement of resurrection from the dead for Judge and judged.
III. THE TRUE APOSTLE OF CHRISTIANITY DOES NOT HIDE AWAY THE ELEMENT OF HUMAN RESPONSIBILITY AND THE NECESSITY OF HUMAN CO-OPERATION WITH DIVINE WORK. This is but one among many ways of asserting that man is himself a creation of reason and of heart and of conscience; in brief, of just so much as to constitute him justly responsible to his Creator. Beyond a doubt, we cannot draw the line that says where the exertion of man's will and the interposition of God's providence end or begin, nor, in all probability, could we see the line if it were drawn. It is none the less certain that both of these are facts in human life. Paul goes so far as to say that Divine arrangements (ver. 27) lead to Divine inquirings on the part of men, and are directly adapted to suggest "seeking the Lord." Notice, therefore:
1. That it lies with men, part of their simplest, first, happiest duty, to "seek the Lord," in distinction from the vain theory or degrading wish that the belief in the reality of the existence of God should be an absolutely necessary outcome of our life or natural income of our conviction. It is a remarkable fact that in all highest senses it is both one and the other of these things, but that in lower and literal sense, if it were so, it would bereave human knowledge of God of its noblest aspects, noblest tokens, and noblest uses.
2. That there is so much uncertainty about finding him we seek, as might well give zest and energy and trembling vigor to endeavor.
3. That the uncertainty lies much in some moral direction of our nature. To "find God" is not the quest of the intellect merely or chiefly. It will lie nearer the heart, at all events, and it will be greatly dependent on, say, the conscience, what it is in any man and how he heeds it. To "find God" will depend on "feeling after" him. The absence of a certain kind and amount of sensibility will in many a case decide, and "that right early," our not finding some one or some thing. Some truth and some people are coy. And very indisputable it is that sometimes it is of the highest truth and the highest style of human character that this is most chiefly true.
4. That to win the crown of "finding" finding really, finding blessedly, finding for ever - is quite among the possibilities; ay, it is among the sure promises exceeding precious to the true seeker.
5. That the grand object "sought," "felt after," and "found is all the time not far from" any one, i.e. really near to every one. He is so near us in our breathing life itself. He is so near us in all those qualities which are derived from his parentage. He is so near as in bountiful goodness and in pitying, strong love. - B.
in loc. We now fix attention on -
I. THE CONFUSIONS OF POLYTHEISM. Its worshippers can never be quite sure that they have propitiated the right god, seeing that gods are supposed to be related to particular places, nations, events, sins, etc. This confusion tends to create a more and more elaborate ritual, and a wearisome round of ceremonies. All gods who may possibly be related to the matter in hand must be propitiated, and then the right one may be missed.
II. THE RESTFULNESS OF MONOTHEISM. One God stands related to all nature, to all events, to all ages, to all sins; and if we can know him and secure right relations with him, there is no one else to fear, no one else to come on us with claims. Behind God there is nobody and nothing. Rest in him is rest forever.
III. THE NULL SATISFACTION or THE ONE GOD KNOWN IN CHRIST. "Manifest in the flesh." Show how men in seeking after God want some form under which they may present him to their minds. This necessity is the secret cause of all idol-making. And God has graciously met it, and fully satisfied it, by presenting to us himself, apprehended as the "Man Christ Jesus." And this incarnation of the one and only God St. Paul preached to the Athenians. The name of the "unknown God' is Jesus, the Christ. - R.T.
I. RECOGNIZES THE RELIGIOUSNESS OF THE ATHENIANS. He was placed in a position of exceeding difficulty. To have attacked those pagan divinities in the very midst of their sanctuaries and altars, and before the very court which guarded the national religion, would have closed the cars of his audience to any message which he might deliver, and might have put him in some personal danger. In his speech he heartily recognizes the worshipping instinct; he sees the dissatisfaction with all existing forms of worship which indicates an aching and yearning of soul to know the full truth of God. To the unrest which the strangely inscribed altar revealed, he made his appeal. He does not attempt to break down their confidence in Zeus, Athene, or their companion divinities. He appeals to the want which no mere deification of human attributes or powers of nature could possibly satisfy. St. Paul admits a real worship in paganism. He admits that the incompleteness and imperfectness of the worship followed from their ignorance, He attempts to guide the worshipping faculty aright, by instructing their understandings, and by declaring positive truths of Divine revelation.
II. THE APOSTLE PLAINLY MARKS THE ERRORS OF THE ATHENIANS. He does not hesitate to say, "ignorantly worship," even to those who prided themselves on their learning. He accepts their own confession that they did not know the God to whom they raised their altar. They were wrong in their cherished conceptions of God, and wrong in the worship they offered to him. They lowered the very idea of God, by likening him to mere man-made images of gold and silver. They offered things to one who, being a Father, cared for hearts, and for things only as they carried messages of love and trust. The sacrifices of the true God are a "broken and a contrite heart," and they who "worship the Father must worship him in spirit and in truth." Three conceptions of God are essential as the foundations of true doctrine and true worship.
1. His unity. "There is no God but God."
2. His spirituality. "God is a Spirit."
3. His righteousness, He has been called, and the name has in it good suggestion, "The Eternal who makes for righteousness."
III. THE APOSTLE DECLARES THE TRUTH WHICH THE ATHENIANS MISSED. "Him declare I unto you." We may briefly summarize his presentation of the gospel revelation, as adapted to the Athenians.
1. He announces God to be a personal Being: no more force, like the sunlight or the evening breeze. No mere quality or virtue, such as they deified, raising altars to fame, to modesty, to energy, to persuasion, and to pity. God is living. He is one. He is the Source of all life, all breath, all being. You cannot imprison God in a statue, even though you may mould it of priceless gold. You cannot enshrine God in a temple, however gorgeous it may be.
2. Then St. Paul explains God's seeming indifference to men through the long ages. It was a mystery, but only the mystery of patient, forbearing love, which waited until the children put all their souls into the cry for him.
3. And, finally, he tells them that the waiting-time is quite past, and the great Father has come to the children now, asking their trust and their love. And the Father's nearness is to be apprehended through the human manifestation of his Son. "He preached unto them Jesus." - R.T.
I. A GREAT PRIMARY TRUTH set forth in two aspects - natural and spiritual
1. All religion rests on a natural foundation. We are creatures of God. Threefold view of humanity - as life, as activity, as being or character. Unsatisfactory view of human nature which omits any of these. We live not alone for earth, but far eternity. Not alone to exist, but to unfold our possibilities, intellectual, moral, spiritual. God the God of providence. History. Social life. But natural religion insufficient. Has proved itself so - must be so.
2. Religion is the work in man of the spiritual. The great fact of a moral ruin cannot be overlooked. Ancient heathen admitted the irreconcilable Opposition of heaven and earth. Refuge in Promethean pride. Despondency They openly said "It is better to die than to live" Errand of the gospel was one of hope. Proclamation of the life of man in God. Spiritual power at hand. The message written out in the facts of the gospel. Paul led up his hearers to Christ. To us religion is Christ. The resurrection is the seal on the promise of life.
II. Consider THE APPLICATIONS OF SUCH A TRUTH.
1. The essential and supreme question of every man's existence is what he is to God, and what God is to him. Our life in him.
2. There is only one religion which meets man's wants, that which has come from God.
3. The religion of Christ is adapted to the humblest as well as the highest mind, to the lowest as well as the loftiest condition. - R.
Acts 13:46), ' unworthy of eternal life.'" The truth set before us in the text is that of the fatherly relation of God to all men, and the answering child-relation of all men to God.
I. THE FACT SEES IS ITS UNIVERSALITY. It is commonly assumed that St. Paul meant no more than to remind his audience that there was only one Creator, and that all men were made in his image. But he must have further designed
(1) to reveal God to them;
(2) to give them the best of names for him;
(3) and to awaken in them the sense of his universal claims to love and trust.
III. THE RELATIONS OF SON AND FATHER THUS INVOLVED. These cannot be made by Christ; they belong to us, and are the very conditions of our being.
1. Christ does enable us to recognize the relation.
2. He does restore it as a broken relation.
3. He does show the glory of the relation in his own human life.
4. He does help us, by his grace and Spirit, to meet and fulfill the claims of the relation. "Because we are sons, God hath sent forth the spirit of his Son into our hearts."
III. THE ARGUMENT FOR THE SPIRITUALITY OF GOD THUS INDICATED. Work out and illustrate:
1. That a thing can never be superior to its maker. If God made us, he must be better than we are, and we are manifestly better than speechless statues.
2. Man, the son, is a spiritual being; then God, the Father, must be spiritual too.
IV. THE CLAIMS OF GOD ON MEN THUS ENFORCED. Fatherhood means authority. What God commands we must heed. He commands two things.
1. That we should repent.
2. That we should receive his gift of eternal life in Christ. "God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." - R.T.
I. GOD'S ATTITUDE IN THE PRE-CHRISTIAN AGES. This was one of magnanimous forbearance. God "winked at" (as the text unhappily renders it), he overlooked, bore with all that was so painful in his sight, all the unimaginable iniquity of forty centuries of human sin. Not, indeed, without many proofs of his Divine displeasure; not without manifestations of his holy wrath. He sent sickness, sorrow, calamity, death, as marks of his meaning in regard to sin. But for long ages of evil, in which men were everywhere sinning directly against him by their idolatries and their atheisms and their practical infidelities, and indirectly against him by their sins against one another and the wrongs they did themselves, God's chief attitude toward his rebellious subjects was that of Divine magnanimity.
2. He did confer on them great and continuous loving-kindness through every age (Acts 14:16, 17).
II. HIS ATTITUDE SINCE THE COMING OF HIS SON. He "now commandeth all men everywhere to repent." The entrance of the "kingdom of God" was attended with the utterance of this strong imperative, "Repent" (Matthew 3:2; Matthew 4:17; Mark 6:12). The last, solemn commission of the ascending Lord was to sound this note of repentance "among all nations" (Luke 24:47). The apostle of the Gentiles, divinely taught, preached to Jew and Gentile "repentance toward God," etc. (Acts 20:21). And wherever this gospel is preached unto men, there is announced the Divine mandate, "Repent." We know:
1. Its real significance. It is the turning of the heart, and therefore of the life, from sin and folly to God and to his service.
2. Its breadth of application. It is coextensive with the race; it reaches to the remotest land and to the most distant age; none so pure of heart and life that they need not, none so base that they may not, none so old that they cannot repent.
3. The consequences of impenitence. They are
(1) God's displeasure now, and
(2) his final condemnation and punishment. - C.
is his purpose concerning us? That one infinite God, "in whom we live, and move, and have our being," who holds our destiny in his sovereign hand, - is it his intention that the lamp of his lighting, the human spirit (Proverbs 20:27), shall go out utterly at death, or that that spirit shall shine in another sphere? And if so, what are to be the conditions of that life beyond the river? The reply is -
I. THAT GOD WILL CONTINUE TO US OUR EXISTENCE IN ANOTHER STATE, AND WILL JUDGE US FOR OUR. ACTIONS HERE. "He hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world." We do not suppose that time hereafter will be measured as it is now, and that the "day" of the other life will correspond with "a day "of our present experience. But the time will come in the future life when "we shall appear before the judgment-seat." God has "appointed unto man once to die," and "after this the judgment." Clearly enough, in the thought and purpose of God, this life is only the commencement of our existence, the probation period on which the long results of the eternal world depend. So far from this being the be-all and end-all of humanity, it is but the preface to the large volume that succeeds; it is but the river which runs down to and is lost in the sea.
II. THAT GOD'S JUDGMENT OF US WILL BE ONE OF PERFECT RIGHTEOUSNESS. "In righteousness."
1. There will be no trace of partiality, no smallest shade of favoritism; none will fare the better, none the worse, for class, or sex, or parentage, or nationality.
2. Regard will be had to all the particulars of human action. "God will bring every work into judgment with every secret thing" (Ecclesiastes 12:14): all thoughts - the "work" of the understanding; all feelings - the "work" of the heart; all choices - the "work of the will; as well as all words - the work" of the tongue; and all deeds - the "work" of the hand.
3. Respect will be had to all that enhances or lessens responsibility; to all special privilege and opportunity on the one hand, and to all privation and disadvantage on the other.
III. THAT GOD WILL JUDGE THE WORLD BY HIS SON, OUR SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST. "By that Man," etc., even the Son of man, to whom all judgment is committed (John 5:22), who will have authority to execute judgment "because he is the Son of man" (John 5:27). Christ will be our Judge. His special relationship to us eminently fits him for that supreme position.
1. He is the Lord of our nature.
2. He knows our nature perfectly (Hebrews 4:15).
IV. THAT GOD HAS GIVEN US STRONG ASSURANCE OF HIS DIVINE PURPOSE. "Whereof he hath given," etc. We have an assurance of such intention in:
1. Our own consciousness of ill desert and incomplete retribution. We feel that sin demands condemnation and punishment, and that our own individual guilt has not received its due penalty. For how much and how many things do we deserve the reproval of the Divine voice, the infliction of the Divine hand!
2. Our observation of the course of abandoned and wicked men. How many are they who go down to the grave with (as it assuredly appears) unpunished sins on their soul!
3. The general apprehension of mankind.
4. But the assurance of God's purpose is in the language and the life of Jesus Christ; more especially in the fact of his resurrection, preceding, predicting, and ensuring our own.
(1) How foolish to treat as if it were the whole of our career that which is no more than the commencement!
(2) How wise to live in view of that great day of account!
(3) How needful to be rightly related to the supreme Judge! - C.
I. RESPONSIBILITY IN HEARING.
1. Application of mind. Concentration on the subject. Openness to persuasion.
2. Surrender of the heart to truth. The message not addressed simply to reason. A speculative spirit may easily admit a cloud of objections and difficulties which obscure the Word. Procrastination means indifference. Enough is already understood and felt to justify practice.
II. SPECIAL CRISIS OF OPPORTUNITY. Whether in listening to the Word, or in receiving Divine invitation through providential circumstances, opportunity at times gathers to a point where resistance becomes guilt. So it was in the Jewish nation at the advent of Christ. So at Athens by the visit of Paul. The Word may be taken away:
1. By the work of sin within us, hardening the heart.
2. By changes in the outward life.
3. By summons into eternity. "Take heed how ye hear;" "Work while it is yet day;" "Now is the accepted time." - R.
are. Notice -
I. THERE ARE WHO HEAR AND MOCK.
1. They mock when they hear something and fear something.
2. They mock when they cannot confute what is spoken into their outer ear, nor silence what speaks of itself in their inner ear.
3. They mock when they don't understand and don't try to understand.
4. They mock when they are ready to risk everything, rather than yield anything of self and self-will.
II. THERE ARE WHO HEAR AND PROCRASTINATE.
1. They procrastinate when they are persuaded - almost.
2. They procrastinate when it is no matter of "two opinions" but of active duty or public declaration of themselves.
3. They procrastinate when their mind is quite clear, but their heart neither honest nor earnest.
4. They procrastinate when they feel they must say something, but are not prepared either to do or to say the right something.
III. THERE ARE WHO HEAR AND BELIEVE.
1. They believe when "the Lord has opened their heart to attend to the things spoken."
2. They believe when they feel that the things spoken are true to their need and are for them.
3. They believe when they are practically ready, if needs be, to "forsake" all the rest in order to "cleave to" that one Being who has "the words of eternal life." - B.